GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - When we think about human tissue donation, it's generally associated with lifesaving kidney and heart transplants. However, organ donation only makes up a small fraction of how tissues are really used by surgeons and researchers every day.
"I fractured my spine from many years in the military," said Grand Valley resident Sven Jones. "I have donated tissue in my back. That got me into the tissue business 10 years ago. It's been a passion ever since."
Jones currently works as the operations manager for a new nonprofit, Rocky Mountain Donor Services. Formed in August 2011, this local group of medical professionals helps match willing donors with programs associated with medical treatment, research and education. Plus, it's the only nonprofit of its kind on the Western Slope of Colorado.
"We don't recover organs for transplant, but we do recover all the rest of the tissues that can be used for transplant," Jones said, like nerves, veins, arteries, skin, bones, tendons, and corneas from the eyes. "There are more than two million surgeries performed in the U.S. requiring donated tissue transplants."
Though Rocky Mountain Donor Services does not provide tissues to stem-cell research groups, its donations go to a variety of other medical research programs, like cancer projects, and research for Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
"It's important to know that all ages and all health statuses can be donors," said Rocky Mountain Donor Services co-founder Dr. John Storheim, a local anesthesiologist. "Don't preclude oneself from seeking those opportunities. It does an incredible amount of good."
Storheim started the group with colleague and friend Dr. Nathan Williams after seeing a need for such a service in Western Colorado and Eastern Utah.
"Statistically, about 65 percent of Coloradoans are registered donors, and only about 6 percent end up giving a donation of tissue for transplant and research purposes," Storheim said.
All types of tissues are needed for life-saving research and pharmaceutical trials, Jones added. And almost everyone can donate their tissues, whether they were healthy or not. There's no age limit, and the disease or trauma level present at the time of death will not impact the donation process.
"One individual can go on to affect literally hundreds of other individuals through tissue transplant and research," Storheim noted. "Tissue trials result in cures."
Both Storheim and Jones suggest that if a person is interested in tissue donation, they should become a registered donor and talk with family members about their wishes ahead of time.
"It's ideal to have someone pre-plan in that way," Storheim said. "We have donor cards for individual's wallets."